Will I keep getting my Personal Independence Payments?
I’m angry. I’m so angry it woke me up this morning. And I’m angry about being angry because I can’t channel the anger into anything productive because I can’t do anything productive. I am powerless to stop being ill and I am powerless to stop being angry.
Being disabled is infuriating. Something that happened to me and was beyond my control has left me like a machine that’s been switched off – disabled – unable to do anything that a 21-year-old of my intelligence and interests might want or need to do. I have been sick for almost half my life, and housebound for the last four years. But that’s not the reason I’m angry.
At some point in the near future an agent from Atos will be reviewing ‘how [my] health condition or disability affects [my] daily life’ so that a ‘decision-maker’ at the Department for Work and Pensions can say whether or not I’m still entitled to Personal Independence Payments. It’s not enough for my doctors to write letters saying that I have a chronic condition and there’s been no meaningful change since the time of my claim 28 months ago. The date of the appointment has been changed four times in four weeks, sometimes with less than seven days’ notice, presumably because disabled people don’t have lives of their own. Exactly what kind of ‘independence’ did they have in mind?
I would like to ask the Atos agent if s/he likes her/his job, whether s/he does anything else besides interrogate disabled people, and why s/he thinks a 21-year-old would lie about not having been well enough to see anyone but their care workers, health professionals and mother since 2015, but I won’t. The DWP’s letters are aggressive, in an understated way, with the result that I don’t feel secure asking the Atos agent questions or even putting my name to this piece.
Most conventions and laws and declarations on human rights agree that I have a right to life, and a right to be as healthy as I’m biologically capable of being. Supposedly, I also have a right to keep my life private. These rights are qualified in this country by a mean and punitive government that would prefer it if unemployed people and displaced people and disabled people didn’t exist – supposedly with the mandate of public opinion. I’m not ‘sleeping off a life on benefits’ (if only: being disabled is tiring but also physically painful, and it’s hard to sleep when you’re in pain) but perhaps my Tory-voting neighbours think that I’m stealing from them. They earn enough to pay tax and I’m sick enough to claim benefits. Actually, welfare. It isn’t a perk. Welfare payments are what you claim to keep you housed, warm, clothed, fed, safe, alive.
PIP is meant to compensate disabled people for the added financial cost of living in a world that doesn’t make room for them. If I ever get to see the Atos agent, s/he will ask me several pages of questions about how my life is affected. The Atos agent will come to my home because I’m too unwell to go to the private health centre s/he uses – that isn’t sufficient evidence of how I’m affected, because I could be faking. To access my right to this welfare payment I am required to prove my life has been devastated, presenting it as a collection of medico-historical facts about all the things I can’t do, which reminds me of all the things I might have wanted to do and makes my existence sound abject and pitiful. Having abased myself, I will, I hope, continue to receive the playing-field-levelling amount of £76.90 per week.